City of Derry’s Rodney Balfour received the Ulster Rugby Coach of the Year award at the Ulster versus Cardiff game at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.
The initiative, driven by Ulsterbus Tours, saw over 70 coaches nominated across four categories; Adult, Female, Disability and Youth, with Rodney winning the Female award in addition to the overall title.
Alistair Brown, Coach Development Manager for Ulster Rugby, paid tribute to the standard of entries: “We were very pleased with the number and quality of the coaches who were nominated from clubs and schools across the Province for this the inaugural Ulster Rugby Coaching Awards.
“The commitment and expertise shown by these rugby coaches is reflected in the supporting statements from players, parents, other coaches and officials who nominated all the coaches.
“I’d like to thank Ulsterbus Tours for supporting this initiative and helping to recognise the fantastic work that our coaches do at all levels of the game in Ulster.”
As for City of Derry Ladies Coach, he was thrilled to pick the prestigious award and also conceded he was shocked he was even on the short-list, let alone pick up the prize.
“I am delighted to have won the Translink Ulster Rugby Coach of the Year Award and it is a real honour,” he stated.
“I didn’t know the team were nominating me so I was shocked when I found out I had been short listed. I try my best but as a coach you don’t often get recognised.
“I have completed several regional coaching courses and I would take advice from Ricky Huey from Ulster Rugby. I like to watch other coaches and learn from them.
“In terms of inspiration, there was a guy Devon Lynch that was at City of Derry. I could always see how much he enjoyed coaching and I try to emulate his style - you have to have a fun side, you can’t go out there and keep preaching at the players.
“There is nothing worse than going out there and doing the same thing every week, so I try to spice things up whilst pushing the players on.
“I really enjoy seeing players improve, it is a credit to themselves and the club when they put in the work on the pitch and in the gym and it is a great feeling when you can see a noticeable improvement in their ability.”
Balfour also believes the award will mean that rugby will continue to grow in and around the area and he also feels working with other sports has meant that women in particular are starting to take up rugby.
“This is great for rugby in the North West and for women’s rugby,” he added.
“We are working with Gaelic clubs to encourage more ladies to get into rugby so this recognition might get more people out to play rugby and encourage others to give the sport a go.”